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Blackhorse47 "I.J. Parnham" (Moray, Scotland)

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Under the Dome
Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic chunk of old-style blockbuster King, 22 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Under the Dome (Hardcover)
I've become a slow reader recently, but I surged through this one in a week, so it must have done something right. Like most of the best stories in the broader fantasy genre, the novel takes a single, simple idea and then asks how that change will affect the characters. Then it runs with the developments to a logical conclusion. In this case the idea is that a small town in Maine (got to feel sorry for King's fictional version of the state!) one day becomes trapped under a dome, a large force-field that ensures that nobody can get in or out. The problem of why it's appeared is rapidly replaced by the bigger problem of how everyone who has been trapped will react now that they are in the odd situation of being cut off from civilization while still being a part of civilization.

In the style of other King books that have examined this descent of man theme such as Needful Things or Tommyknockers, the supernatural elements are almost non-existent and instead the story lets the characters react to the situation, and some react well, and most react very badly indeed. So the tale develops into a classic good versus evil scenario and it's one that builds then maintains the tension. There are numerous scenes of epic destruction and mayhem as civilization crumbles and surviving is all about who is strongest rather than who is the most decent. Sometimes, in previous books, I've questioned the depths people go to, but they usually have the excuse of an evil force, but with that not being the case here, it actually feels more believable. Mobs can and do act like this and as the new order that forms employs most of the techniques of repressive regimes in our history, sadly this is all too plausible. As always with King I often asked myself if it was going on too long, but in this case there's a massive cast and nobody is going anywhere, so I was happy with the length and I would happily have carried on reading if it had been even longer.

I won't comment on the ending as I've already come across mixed views on it, but for me, in an epic like this, the seemingly main points of the book of: will the main bad guy win and why is the dome there ultimately become irrelevant. It's all about the journey the characters take and what they learn about human nature when confronting it in the raw, and as King depicts that as well as he ever has, I reckon the story works and I hope he writes a few more blockbusters in this style.

Ashes Series 2009 [DVD] [2009]
Ashes Series 2009 [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Ricky Ponting
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: £4.50

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent dvd for non-Sky subscribers, 21 Nov. 2009
As I'm one of those lifelong cricket lovers who the ECB have decided they don't need any more, my cricket fix for the last five years has been Test Match Special on the radio. I have seen very little cricket recently and so watching this dvd was a revelation. Others who saw the matches live might not be quite so impressed, but I enjoyed reliving a result that's only happened twice since the days when all we had to contend with was the likes of Kim Hughes and Rodney Hogg, with the added benefit of vision.

I felt the coverage was well-judged to bring out the drama and it didn't come over as a highlights bundle in which every day has thirty minutes coverage regardless of how interesting that day was. Key turning points are often presented at length. As others have said it's not all four, four, wicket, four as highlights often are with no feeling of the build up of events. This was an unusual series in that the result of each match was decided during brief periods of play. Context is everything and this dvd shows the twists of what I thought was a well-fought Test series between two equally matched sides. I wish all series were like this one, and it was nice to finally put some faces to names.

Pontypool [DVD] [2008]
Pontypool [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Stephen McHattie
Offered by FREETIME
Price: £3.98

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tell the world that this is a great movie, 20 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Pontypool [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
If you like horror that is low on budget but high on ideas, good storytelling and tension, this sleeper movie is worth watching. The story is the familiar one of the isolated group finding themselves as seemingly the last best hope for Mankind's survival when crazed zombies attack.

This time the setting is a local Canadian radio station. A former shock jock, now slumming it, is the hero. Grant is a great character being eager to return to the big time, while still having a nice sardonic world-weary attitude. The day starts as any another with the usual nonsense that fills up local radio, but then reports start coming in that mysterious things are happening... Most of the film takes place in the one small set of the radio station and the story could quite readily work as a radio play, being entirely based on hearing reports coming in. They are often disjointed and so they leave the viewer in the dark as much as the radio presenter, but gradually they build to create a terrifying vision of escalating madness.

It was said that the inspiration was Orson Welles' 1930s War of the Worlds production and as such this is a great homage. The tension constantly mounts and any initial thoughts that listening to horrible things happen is not what horror films should be about and that it'll rapidly become tedious are dispelled. Gruesome special effects gore has its place in horror, but so does pure psychological terror as well as letting the viewer imagine what's happening.

Eventually the film does open up as the full nature of the zombie attack becomes known and herein lies the film's one problem. Although the reason for the attack is an original and clever one, some might find it hard to swallow. I won't say what it is (although the makers don't appear to be hiding it so it might not qualify as a twist as such), but I liked it because it ties in perfectly with the first half of the film and means this story had to be set in a radio station. The story wouldn't have worked otherwise and as such it represents clever scripting and foreshadowing.

Having provided the revelation the film then runs with the idea. Sadly this means that in the last act the film becomes more traditional with its horror while also perhaps going too far with its message, which hovers between being profound and being confusing. This move away from nail-biting claustrophobic tension towards a less controlled and slightly garbled madness stops this from being one of the greatest zombie flicks ever made, but for the first two acts alone this film deserves to be seen by horror fans.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 9, 2011 1:05 PM BST

James May's Toy Stories [DVD] [2009]
James May's Toy Stories [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ James May
Price: £9.99

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of that old-fashioned idea: the entertaining tv program, 18 Nov. 2009
This six-part series has been one of the most enjoyable of 2009. It revolves around the simple idea of using various famous (well, for people aged 40+) childhood toys in a community project. This format avoids straight rose-tinted nostalgia in favour of getting adults and children involved in playing with the toys on a grand scale... a very grand scale. So for the Airfix episode the attempt is made to construct a lifesize Spitfire aircraft. The plasticine episode, rather obliquely, creates a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. There's a Meccano bridge across a real river, a full size Scalextric racing track, a full size model railway and most famously a house built out of Lego.

Each program presents the entertaining side of the planning, chronicling the problems as much as the triumphs, as well as the amusing reactions of the people involved. It's a delight to see children who have never got their fingers gummed up with Airfix glue before hating doing an activity that doesn't involve sitting in front a tv screen then gradually finding that they enjoy making something that's real. It's just as much fun seeing the adults reliving their youth as well as the enthusiasts who are still devoted to the particular toy and who are inevitably male with loft extensions to house their hobby.

Through it all James May's genuine enthusiasm comes over well. It pleases me that of all the Top Gear presenters he's the one that appears to be getting the most work. He has an appealing and gentle approach that finds good-spirited fun in most situations such as the po-faced reactions of the Flower Show judges or meeting a particularly nerdy enthusiast. My only minor problem is that these days the BBC are incapable of making a tv show without a 'celebrity' appearing and so inevitably some crop up to, as always, add precisely nothing, but thankfully their slots are small. In addition the nostalgia is tainted by the realization that the toys do still exist, except they have often been dumbed down and they are usually being made in some far flung corner of the globe, but I would hope that this series gives the toys a boost.

This is simply the best possible show that could have been made about the toys, and it's the only series I've watched all year in which I've smiled from start to finish.

Best Served Cold
Best Served Cold
by Joe Abercrombie BA
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Would be better if served hot, 17 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Best Served Cold (Hardcover)
This book disappointed me. It didn't completely destroy my faith in Abercrombie's writing, but it has dented it. The earlier trilogy was the best thing I've read in fantasy in a long time, even rekindling my waning interest in the genre. Memorable characters, exciting action, dark humour and stylish writing all combined to create intelligent Sword and Sorcery for the modern reader. The plot in truth was repetitive and familiar, but oddly that only added to the charm, showing that there were ways to write the old stories and still be fresh. Well, the latest book, although starting off with plenty of promise (and goodwill as this is billed as a standalone book) also has a poor plot that does nothing original, but sadly the qualities that made the other books work are lacking.

The characters are charmless. Before they were quirky and appealing with their motivations being mainly to survive in a tough world by doing whatever was necessary. This time the author appears to have forgotten the basic rule that readers must find something sympathetic about them to care about the story. As I found everyone loathsome, I couldn't care what happened to them. The action, which before was sparingly done and moved the story on is now often relentless and isn't action as such, being just violence, and repetitive and gratuitously graphic violence at that. Increasingly I skipped those pages. The humour is completely absent, being replaced by a dreary world-weary disinterest. I kept on longing for an amusing aside or a fun play on words to enliven the prose. But perhaps worst of all the writing is pedestrian. Abercrombie appeared to share with George Martin the ability to craft the perfect scene with an intriguing start followed by steadily growing tension all capped off with a great last page and a cliffhanger that makes you want to find out what happens to the character next. Somehow that's all lacking. The scenes are very one-note and the prose just plods along.

In short this was a chore to finish and when I got to the awful ending I wished I had given up earlier. I don't know what went wrong here, but I hope the author works it out and bounces back next time as the fantasy genre needs him.

Night Of The Comet [DVD]
Night Of The Comet [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Beltran

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden gem of a cult sf / horror movie, 15 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Night Of The Comet [DVD] (DVD)
At long last this cult masterpiece from the 1980s makes it to dvd. I have no idea why this film isn't better known as it has everything the fan of horror and sf could want. The plot is familiar in which a few likeable characters wake up one day to find that they are the last people left on earth. A comet passed by in the night - the one that wiped out the dinosaurs - and has killed everyone except the lucky few who happened to be hidden away behind steel walls. Those who didn't get killed have been turned into zombies. The plucky survivors band together, but then danger arrives from an unexpected direction...

This film stands out from the many others, some big budget, that have tried this end-of-the-world formula. It does so with a great collection of entertaining leads featuring Catherine Stewart and Kelli Maroney along with a pre-Trek Robert Beltran and a memorable cameo from Geoffrey Lewis. The story delivers a great deal of tension from not only the zombies but the horror of the situation while not taking itself too seriously. It also has some surprising twists and has a satisfying ending that pushes past the usual formula of wondering who'll survive and who'll get killed horribly. In short this film comes over as effortless in the way it's been made and is a joyful piece of entertainment that is a text-book example of the sleeper movie.

Bergerac: The Complete Collection [DVD] [1981]
Bergerac: The Complete Collection [DVD] [1981]
Dvd ~ John Nettles
Price: £34.99

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best cosy cop show, 14 Nov. 2009
Made from 1981-1991 this show is perhaps the best of its kind and it has dated well. John Nettles plays his definitive role with a performance that makes the show. Bergerac is something of a maverick cop, often playing fast and loose with the rules and being on the verge of being kicked off the force for insubordination. Of course this is the usual behaviour for cops in tv series, but as Bergerac works the mean streets of Jersey his behaviour adds interest to a show that could have been too predictable. As a recovering alcoholic he also has his demons, but the show never lets this element become too serious and the numerous recurring characters ensure the show has a cosy format.

Best of the main characters is Terence Alexander's Charlie Hungerford, Bergerac's ex-father-in-law who is a rich buffoon who is always involved in dodgy activities, usually innocently, and who can always provide Bergerac with the clues he needs to solve the cases. Best of the recurring small part characters is Phillipa Vale, which provided Liza Goddard with perhaps her best role as the charismatic jewel thief.

During the course of the series Bergerac went through several girlfriends, starting with Francine and ending with Danielle, although for most of the run Louise Jameson, also in her best tv role, had the role. The show does ultimately run out of steam, although the makers accept that when they amend the format with Bergerac leaving the force. And the dangers of presenting Jersey as the crime capital of the world are headed off with many of the later episodes taking part in France. I didn't enjoy that latter change and so I'm pleased the show didn't carry on for too long with the revised style, leaving this as a thoroughly enjoyable cop show.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2009 2:41 PM GMT

The Real Story & Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Sequence: 1: v. 1
The Real Story & Forbidden Knowledge: The Gap Sequence: 1: v. 1
by Stephen Donaldson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Silly, but fun., 10 Nov. 2009
Weird mutant aliens the Amnion are being nasty. War beckons. But nobody cares out here in the Gap. Planets are uncommon and only the toughest dare to roam. Space cowboys grit their teeth around rolled up cheroots and glare menacingly around the space bars daring anyone to insult their spaceships. It's a lawless frontier territory where women are real women, men are real men, and tribbles are really scared.

Into this heady brew comes Morn Hyland. She's a bit of a girly but she'll toughen up. There's Angus Thermopyle, an ugly space varmint and a bit smelly but underneath it all he's, well, a nasty piece of work. Finally there's Nick Succorso, a hunky anti-hero. He walks in the room and all the women swoon, but is he just to dangerous to know? Before you can whistle the theme tune to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly we're off on a wild adventure. There'll be space battles, love and hate, double crossing and revenge, and everyone will grind their teeth a lot.

It's hard to take this melodrama seriously, but I'm not sure you're supposed to. Donaldson is a renowned fantasy writer; that is renowned for his long, over-written works. This is his try at sf. He warmed up by watching Star Trek and thinking it was a documentary on space travel, he decided that this was the accepted set up for ship design and operations. He then needed some characters and a story. He put a few seconds thought into that and then he was off.

The faults in his creation are massive. The first novel is so slight that it should have been the first chapter of the second novel and can be ignored without any loss to the story arc. Worse, everything is so derivative it borders on parody and the convolutions the plot goes through to force characters who hate each other to work together are embarrassing. There's much unintended humour as characters who have gone ballistic with anger then face a crisis that makes them even angrier. At which point all hells breaks loose and the characters get even more annoyed. Donaldson uses every descriptive term in his thesaurus trying to convey just how incredibly angry everyone is.

This is terrible stuff, but enjoyable. Its style is like better written E E Doc Smith with sillier characters and less believable science. You know it's bad. You know it's pointless. You know it's five books long, but it's also entertaining. In the forward to the first book, Donaldson pontificates about his inspiration for this work being Wagner's Ring cycle. That is the only pretentious element to this work. As far as I can make out this is cheesy soap opera meets Spaghetti Westerns set in space, and as such, is highly engaging stuff.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2011 6:48 PM BST

A History of Scotland [DVD]
A History of Scotland [DVD]
Dvd ~ Neil Oliver
Price: £9.99

159 of 162 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to a complex subject, 8 Nov. 2009
This review is from: A History of Scotland [DVD] (DVD)
This historical documentary series has a tough agenda of explaining in a few episodes around a thousand years of Scotland's history. And the approach taken received criticism, although I think that was unfair.

It was said that the series was superficial. This is an obvious point as every episode contains enough material for a 13 part tv series, but the aim was clearly to give a brief overview and in that the show succeeds. It was also said that the series looked too much at the English-side of events. Again I don't feel that's fair. Pretty much every tv show featuring Scotland gets that criticism thrown at it, and besides, much of the history of the UK does involve England. English history has to be covered to provide a context or you're just left with lots of squabbling clan leaders. And finally it was criticised for historical inaccuracies. I'm not knowledgeable enough to know what they are, but if they do exist, then to my mind the history as presented was already messy and if they glossed over events for clarity, that was to the good.

What we do have is a solid introduction to a subject that makes interesting the long history of the kings of Scotland, which for me previously had just consisted of names without any knowledge of who they were or what they did. Enjoying the show is easier if you like Neil Oliver's presenting style of walking quickly along windswept moors talking over his shoulder, and for me he brings the right level of authority, even if he isn't an historian. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the intrusive historical re-enactments and dramatic techniques. The events are dramatic enough without interludes that are neither well acted or add anything that couldn't be conveyed in words. That aside, I enjoyed this series and afterwards I was often moved to seek out more details on the events covered, which as far as I was concerned was the whole point of the show.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2015 8:16 PM BST

Report on probability A
Report on probability A
by Brian W Aldiss
Edition: Paperback

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Big Brother with all the interesting bits cut out., 5 Nov. 2009
A man sits in a house. He looks out the window. Across the street is another house. In the other house there is a family, coming and going, carrying out their domestic business. He watches them. They come and go. Time passes. Elsewhere in town another man is looking through binoculars from his loft window. He is watching the first man watch the family. Meanwhile on a hill above the town someone else is watching the man with binoculars. Also in a dimension far, far away a group of aliens gather round a screen and watch the man on the hill who is watching the man with binoculars who is watching the man who watches the family...

Unfortunately that synopsis can't convey the tedium of this 'novel'. This is a story without a plot, without characters, without anything that you'd expect in fiction. Its only virtue is its shortness. As this tedium is obviously by design, and as Aldiss is one of my favourite sf authors who usually writes gripping stories, there must be an explanation for this non-novel.

So it's probably a comment on the futility of existence, an exploration of the nature of man and observation, a prophetic vision of a Big Brother society. But like indulgent Turner Prize winning art, it didn't move me. It didn't uplift me. It didn't make me look at the world in a different way or say anything interesting about the human condition. It contained no interesting prose and if anyone but an established author had written it, it wouldn't have been published. It didn't do anything but bore me and make me wish I hadn't read it, and if that makes me a complete Philistine, so be it and I'll leave this book to those who got it.

OK, rant over. Obviously this is a completely different book to the usual type of science fiction available. It was written at the height of the New Wave period of experimentation. Personally I liked a lot of the sf that came out then such as JG Ballard's fiction, which again isn't to everyone's tastes, and I even quite enjoyed Aldiss's other experimental work Barefoot in the Head. This book wasn't to my taste, but I can accept that others have enjoyed reading an anti-story that pushes the boundaries of fiction. Therefore, I'm just offering a warning with this 1-star review. This book is challenging and difficult. For me it was too challenging and too difficult. For others it might not be.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2011 6:49 PM GMT

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